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Short /u/ in word-final position in monomorphemes

In Afrikaans, /u/ is regarded phonemically as a short vowel, despite some phonotactic contexts in which it is phonetically long. The same applies to /i/ and /y/. Apart from /ɛ, ɔ, œ, y/, all the other short vowels occur freely in open as well as closed syllables in word-final position.

Word-final orthographic <o>, as in, for example foto /'fo.tu/['fuə.tu]photo, is generally pronounced as [u] in Afrikaans, phonemicized as the short vowel phoneme /u/. This is contrary to the situation in Dutch where <o> in open, final syllables, as in foto /'fo.to/['fo.to], is generally considered to be phonemically long (see the topic on the Dutch vowel inventory). In in a few cases in Afrikaans, however, written <o> in word-final position is realized by a phonetically long [uə], phonemically long /o/. In such instances it is also stressed (.

In all instances of short vowels, the following topics should be taken into account as important background information:

As an orientation with respect to all topics concerning stress placement in Afrikaans monomorphemes, the following reference list should be consulted:

(De Stadler, L.G. 1981); (Combrink, J.G.H.; De Stadler, L.G. 1987); (De Stadler, L.G. 1991); (De Villiers, M. 1965); (De Villiers, M.; Ponelis, F.A. 1992); (Lee, A.S. 1963); (Le Roux, J.J. 1936); (Le Roux, T.H.; Pienaar, P. de V. 1927); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Wissing, D.P. 1971); (Wissing, D. 1987); (Wissing, D.P. 1988); (Wissing, D.P. 1988); (Wissing, D. 1989); (Wissing, D.P. 1989); (Wissing, D. 1991); (Wissing 2017)


In the following sections, /u/ is treated with respect to its role in the stress pattern of Afrikaans monomorphemic words, both in open as well as closed syllables in word-final position. The generalisation to be made is that /u/ is stressed in word-final, closed syllables, while, in the case of word-final open syllable, it is unstressed with the primary stress in the word falling on the penultimate syllable. This is also the case with short /ə, ɑ, i, ɛ, ɔ/. Note, however, that /ɛ, ɔ/ only occur in polysyllabic persons' and place names from indigenous languages, see Short ɛ in monomorphemes and Short ɔ in monomorphemes. /u/ does occur in a few restricted instances in positions other than word-final, but such examples are not particularly interesting with respect to general stress patterns, as these bisyllablic words all end on unstressable pseudo-suffixes. The following list is just about complete: boetseer, broeder, droesem, koester, oefen, oester, ploeter, soepel, troetel, woeker (Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-I schwa.

In the subsequent sections, we first attend to /u/ in open syllables in word-final position, and then, subsequently, to /u/ in closed ones.

[+]/u/ in open syllables

Here /u/ [u] is spelled <oe>; elsewhere also with <o>.

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Figure 1

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  1. Four of these words have have final stress: kaketoe, kangaroe, kariboe, sjampoe; the rest all exhibit penultimate stress; all of them are bisyllabic. /u/ may be classified as phonetically long in both the stressed and unstressed cases (see Long vowels in monomorphemes). kariboe is classified by (Neijt, Anneke and Zonneveld, Wim. 1982) as member of the subgroup of <-i-> words with antepenult stress.
  2. Although penultimate stress is a trend in the above data, no definitive support for penultimate stress can be claimed on the basis of these cases.

The subsequent set of monomorphemes ending on <o>/u/[u] provides additional backing for the main stress pattern, viz. penultimate stress, irrespective of word length..

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Figure 2

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  1. A number of proper names spelled with word-final <o> are provided here as representative for a fairly large set of similar cases.
  2. Quite a number of indigenous South African place names and names of people are spelled with final -o. These have been incorporated into Afrikaans, mainly from Bantu languages, and are pronounced as either [ɔ] or [u]. Some examples are: Lebombo, Levubo, Limpopo, Madimbo, Makgabo, Shivambo, Sonwabo, Tambo, Thabo. In English this vowel is regularly diphthongised to [əu].
  3. Limpopo displays variable pronunciation between [u] and [uə].
  4. In bisyllabic words above, final o is unstressed in most cases. Exceptions are bravo, buro, kambro, kano, tablo . Penultimate stress is thus the default position in the case of bisyllabic monomorphemes.
  5. Penultimate stress is also present in all the multisyllabic words, except for Borneo, deposito, dinamo, domino, embrio, Eskimo, Farao, gigolo, Jerigo, libido, Pinocchio, risiko, rodeo, ultimo which display antepenultimate stress. Note that the penultimate vowel is mostly /i/ – written as either <e> (e.g. in Borneo) or <i> (in deposito/).
  6. It is to be expected that some of the o's would be pronounced by individual speakers as not quite [u], but rather as something inbetween [u] and [uə].

[+]/u/ in closed syllables

Examples of this type are rather restricted; the lists in this Extra are more or less complete.

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Figure 3

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  1. Final stress dominates in all these cases but warboel, which might be classified as a compound word (war+boel), with normal penultimate stress. The reduplications poer-poer, voel-voel, noem-noem are not normal monomorphemic words; stress placement is not quite clear, and differs from person to person (See Reduplications in Afrikaans).
  2. It is striking that words ending on <n> are more numerous than the other three types.

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  • Lubbe, H.J1993Inleiding tot die algemene en Afrikaanse metriese fonologieReeksUOVS
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  • Wissing, D1991Is Afrikaans 'n inisiëleklemtoontaal?South African Journal of Linguistics947-57
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  • Wissing, Daan2017FonologieVan Schaik
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